Eddie Murphy has a legendary Bill Cosby impression.
He performed it as cast member on “Saturday Night Live” in the 1980s, so it seemed natural that he would bust it out when he returned to the show on Saturday and told jokes there for the first time in 35 years.
The bit was brief: Murphy noted he had 10 children and “if you had told me 30 years ago that I would be this boring stay-at-home house dad and Bill Cosby would be in jail, even I would have took that bet.” Then came that famous impression. “Who’s America dad now?!” Murphy’s Cosby declared.
Cosby, as Murphy had predicted earlier in the week, apparently didn’t find the joke very funny. His publicist Andrew Wyatt criticized Murphy, calling him a “Hollywood Slave” in a statement. Wyatt wrote that Cosby “broke color barriers in the Entertainment Industry,” paving the way for other black, male comedians such as Murphy, Dave Chappelle and Kevin Hart.
“It is sad that Mr. Murphy would take this glorious moment of returning to SNL and make disparaging remarks against Mr. Cosby,” Wyatt wrote. “One would think that Mr. Murphy was given his freedom to leave the plantation, so that he could make his own decisions; but he decided to sell himself back to being a Hollywood Slave.” (A spokesman for Murphy did not immediately return The Washington Post’s inquiry.)
Cosby, who is serving time in prison for sexual assault, has had a long and tumultuous relationship with Murphy, dating back to when Murphy was America’s hottest rising comedian.
At the time, Cosby was a huge star. He had crafted an image of himself as a clean comic, which transferred nicely to his popular and groundbreaking sitcom. While comics like Richard Pryor had become famous with dirty jokes about sex and drugs, and used profanity to address race head on, Cosby’s act was centered on family and avoided curse words.
In the 1987 stand-up special “Raw,” Murphy told a joke about Cosby calling him the previous year. “[He] chastised me on the phone for being too dirty onstage, and it was really weird because I had never met him.” Murphy then launched into the impression, lacing jokes throughout.
“I got mad because he thought that was my whole act,” Murphy continued, adding he called Pryor, who encouraged him to perform as he wanted.
Cosby disputed that account in a 2007 newspaper interview, calling Murphy “a very nasty, nasty liar. Period. It wasn’t necessary. It was between us and what I was trying to explain to him.” Cosby added that Pryor told him Murphy’s account was inaccurate.
“The reason I called [Murphy] was after following him, there were enough backstage people who in their critique felt this was a young man who, at certain points in time during his act, told people in arrogance how much money he was making. This was in arrogance,” Cosby said. “And I was calling to warn him that this is something you don’t have to do. Cursing doesn’t bother me when it’s applied properly. I’ve heard Richard, and I’ve laughed heartily. I never called Richard and said, ‘Richard, I don’t think you should be cursing.’ But that’s not what it was.”
Murphy, outside the context of a stand-up bit, told his version of events in a 2019 episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”
“He had a weird thing with me that he didn’t have with other comics,” Murphy told Jerry Seinfeld. “Because I’ve heard other people tell stories about, ‘I had this with him, he gave me advice,’ and the stuff that he said to me was the exact opposite.”
Murphy continued: “I did this bit- somebody heckled me and I said shut the [expletive] up before I throw my wallet at you.’ And he called me up and said, ‘You can’t talk about how much money you have onstage.'” Murphy said the joke was taken out of context, but that Cosby responded “well I don’t come and see people’s shows, and I know you like Richard [Pryor].” Then Cosby suggested the younger comic come see him perform in Atlantic City “and see how it’s supposed to be done. And you shouldn’t get onstage unless you have something to say.”
“He wasn’t nice,” Murphy concluded. “He wasn’t doing that with everybody. He was doing that with me specifically.”
However that call went down in the 1980s, Cosby would later do public moralizing. (His now infamous 2004 pound cake speech would become the legal justification for unsealing a deeply damaging deposition in which Cosby admitted to getting Quaaludes to give to women.)
But when Murphy had the chance to reprise his Cosby impression during SNL’s 40th anniversary show in 2015, the comedian declined. Cosby was in the middle of a firestorm as allegations of sexual misconduct had resurfaced in the previous year, with the public paying more attention to his accusers and more coming forward. Cosby adamantly denied wrongdoing but hadn’t yet faced new criminal charges.
“I am very appreciative of Eddie and I applaud his actions,” Cosby, through a spokesperson, said at the time.
Murphy later explained his thinking about the request to make fun of Cosby. “I totally understood,” he told The Post’s Geoff Edgers. “It was the biggest thing in the news at the time. I can see why they thought it would be funny, and the sketch that Norm [Macdonald] wrote was hysterical.”
But Murphy declined, he explained, because “it’s horrible. There’s nothing funny about it. If you get up there and you crack jokes about him, you’re just hurting people. You’re hurting him. You’re hurting his accusers. I was like, ‘Hey, I’m coming back to SNL for the anniversary, I’m not turning my moment on the show into this other thing.’ ”
Months after SNL 40, though, Murphy had no qualms telling a Cosby joke as he accepted the Mark Twain prize for humor.
“Bill has one of these,” Murphy said onstage. “Did y’all make Bill give his back?” He then suggested Cosby should do a show where he “just talks crazy,” and then Murphy busted out his killer Cosby impression – except, in this version, Cosby was angry and cursing about having to return his awards.
Cosby has since been convicted on three counts of sexual assault.